It was spring break last week and for me, that meant, take-your-kids-wherever-you-go. So, I seized the opportunity to go clothes shopping, as recently, my girls seemed to have grown a lot. I also figured we could have some girly fun while shopping, right? Wrong. It turns out, that ‘shopping’ was more akin to giving myself an aneurysm, than being a relaxing or bonding experience.
It all started nicely enough, we had a leisurely breakfast at home, got dressed and went to Gap, where children are generally tolerated. However, after five minutes of preventing my 3-year-old from shoplifting a skirt my stress level increased, as I couldn’t really imagine sharing a (Chinese) prison cell with her. This stress continued as she and her sister decided to play hide and seek, rather than wait for me to hold up clothes against them saying things like, “Do you like this? No? Too bad, it’s cute and you’re wearing it.” I really can’t imagine why they don’t like shopping! After a while, I too got tired of this and left them to play as I shopped.
Then, my 3-year-old came running to me. “Mummy, that baby is not really cute,” she said loudly and indignantly, then waited for me to do something about it. I stared at her incredulously. “What? All babies are cute,” I said, my eyes widening in fear as to what prompted this bold statement, and hoping the parents either weren’t around or didn’t understand English. She dragged me, pointing at the ‘offending’ baby who had crawled into her hiding space. “That baby is not cute,” she said again and burst into tears. I smiled sheepishly at the mother standing nearby and said, “Dui bu qi" (sorry). “It’s okay,” she said in excellent English, smiling sympathetically at 'poor' me, the mother of a ‘rude’ toddler. I cringed and dragged the said toddler away, thinking of the best way to explain that her behavior wasn’t polite, even if the baby did take her hiding place.
I told a friend this story and how embarrassed I’d been and she said, “Why? Kids just say what they think. It’s great. Maybe that baby was ugly…not all babies are cute you know, we just have to say that.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Yes, but she didn’t mean the baby was ugly, she was just expressing her angry feelings about the hiding spot.” To which my friend replied, “Well, to her that baby wasn’t cute because of what it did.”
It was annoying, but she was right. I was so focused on manners and being embarrassed that I didn’t properly deal with my toddler's feelings. I cringed (again) because I didn’t want to be that kind of parent, the one that’s too absorbed in how my kids appear to others at the expense of their feelings.
Did you watch the movie Monsoon Wedding? It raised a situation where children are forced to respect their elders and family members no matter what, and this led to them being inappropriately compromised. This is a real and deep fear of mine. So, if my girls don’t want to hug or kiss certain people, I let them decide, at the risk of being rude. This is something I had to ‘learn’ however, because in my culture, it’s rude for children not to do as they are told by their elders, and to not indulge someone older with a kiss or a hug, if asked.
Hence, my husband and I had to have a ‘manners’ conversation. We are from two different cultures, so we need to agree on what to teach the kids as different things are rude or polite depending on what culture we are in. For instance, in my country, the kids address anyone older as ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle,’ regardless of whether they are actually related or not. It is a sign of respect, so you also say this to a bus or taxi driver, and using a first name is always considered rude. In my husband’s country, our kids refer to family members by first name, because they don’t want to be called 'Aunty' or ‘Uncle,’ even if they are related. They think it’s strange to be called those pronouns. Hence, it gets confusing and the kids sometimes forget which rules apply where.
In my culture, we also eat a lot of food with our hand, but my husband was brought up with very strict table manners where he was ‘thwacked’ if his elbows so much as touched the table. In Asia, it is common to burp after a meal to show your appreciation, however, any public bodily function is considered grotesque in Western culture, especially at the dinner table.
So, what ‘manners’ do we teach our kids? I suppose it has to be an evolving discussion, depending on the culture and circumstances we are in. In the meantime, I am second guessing myself as to whether all babies really are cute, or if I’ve just been too focused on manners and such, that I just can’t tell anymore.
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